As citizens in the Information Age, where we are bombarded every day with vast amounts of knowledge and news, quality is fast becoming much more important than quantity. Today, former Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull announced he was leaving politics, and Google News was showing 256 articles about it within 8 hours. And that’s just for a relatively inconsequential (in world terms) resignation of a Australian politician. On the same day, when a mining explosion in the US killed 25 workers, there were over 2,300 news reports in the same 8 hours. The quantity is there, but I wonder about the quality – the vast majority of those news reports are essentially the same article, rehashed and published for a different organisation. Quality journalism requires two key elements – originality and accountability. Originality is obvious – it’s not quality journalism if you just reworded a few lines of someone else’s story. Accountability, though, is what really makes good journalism. Good journalists will admit when they get things wrong – no matter how minor or trivial it may seem. But how often does that happen? If a journalist reports something that’s inaccurate – or just plain wrong – how often do you see it followed up and corrected? I hardly ever see corrections in newspapers or even online.
“This is why we are the only TV station that I know of that opens air for audience to phone in and to criticise and to correct our coverage.”- Wadah Khanfar
I may be showing my age a bit but I can remember when the ABC had Backchat, and then later renamed it Feedback and then cancelled it altogether. The ABC now lets you know when it gets things wrong by announcing them on it’s Corrections & Clarifications page, tucked away in a tiny corner of their website. So the ABC no longer broadcasts audience complaints, and it hides it’s own mistakes. That’s the opposite of how news organisations should behave, in my opinion. News, without accountability, is just gossip. Everyone makes mistakes – to pretend otherwise is arrogant and demeaning to the audience. But accurate information is so crucial to a well-functioning democracy that when mistakes are made they should be clearly and loudly announced. Preferably by the organisation at fault, but if not then it’s up to other news organisations and ordinary people themselves to correct them.
How often do you see a media organisation correct its mistakes? Or more to the point, how often do you see media organisations making mistakes?
(In this article “ABC” refers to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the American broadcaster)